The immediate events surrounding Jesus’ departure from this world are a picture of his return, as can be seen by the five events recorded in Matthew 27 which also occur, in a different order and magnitude, when he returns on the day of the Lord: darkness over the land and the sun being darkened; a loud voice or shout; the veil of the temple being torn (death) and the heavens departing as a scroll (return); an earthquake; and saints rising from the grave.
Jesus’ Death and Departure
The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke give very similar accounts of Jesus’ death, with all three recording the darkness over the land, Jesus’ cry with a loud voice and the veil of the temple being split down the middle. As is often the case, one of the gospel accounts contains additional detail, which in this case is in the gospel of Matthew who records an earthquake and the saints rising from the grave.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:45-46)
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. (Matthew 27:50-53)
Jesus’ Return on the Day of the Lord
Jesus will return to gather his elect, the saints, on the day of the Lord immediately prior to beginning to pour out his wrath upon the remaining unbelievers in this world. The key events surrounding Jesus’ return are his descent from heaven with a shout; the sun and moon being darkened causing darkness over the land; a great earthquake; the heavens being shaken and departing as a scroll; and the saints, both dead and alive, being raised as they are gathered from the four winds.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:29-31)
Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (Luke 21:26-28)
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Revelation 6:12-17)
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The Purpose of the Temple Veil
In Exodus 25-27, God gave Moses highly specific instructions for erecting the tabernacle and, roughly 500 years later, king Solomon followed these instructions in the building of the first physical temple. Inside, the two main areas were the sanctuary (the holy place) and the holy of holies (the most holy place). A veil, or curtain, 30 cubits high and made of thick material separated these two areas. According to Josephus, the second temple was taller with the veil being 40 cubits high. Either way, the veil that was torn after Jesus’ death was somewhere in the region of 50–60 feet tall, or 15–18 meters, and made of extremely thick fabric. That it was ripped right down the middle of its length when Jesus died was a supernatural and highly significant event.
The priests were allowed to enter the sanctuary but only the high priest was allowed to enter the holy of holies, and that just once a year on the day of atonement (Exodus 30:10) to burn incense, and to sprinkle first the blood of a bullock and then that of a goat onto the mercy seat as an atonement first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people.
Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: (Hebrews 9:6-8)
The Significance of the Veil Being Rent in Twain
The tearing of the temple veil after Jesus’ death signified both the end of the old covenant, including the necessity of a priest for atonement, and the beginning of the new covenant under which, through the spilled blood of Jesus, we can all approach the throne of grace directly. (Hebrews 4:16).
Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 9:1-12)
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
The Temple Veil is a Picture of the Visible Heaven
While there won’t be another tearing of the temple veil when Jesus returns, the event at the time of his death is a picture of the visible heaven departing as a scroll to reveal that which it presently covers. Thus, the overwhelming fear (Luke 21:26) that will cause men’s hearts to fail on the day of the Lord is not only due to the terrifying events, such as the great earthquake and the sun and the moon being darkened, but also because the earth will no longer be covered by the heaven (Genesis 1:14-17) that separates us from being able to see God’s face and His throne (Revelation 6:16). Prior to this point in time that is yet to happen, the Bible gives us a handful of accounts of the heavens being opened, notably Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1), Stephen (Acts 7:56) and, of course, Jesus himself when he emerges from the water after being baptized by John (Mark 1:10).
How much more incredible will it be when the heavens are not just opened to an individual but to all who dwell on the earth?